Israel’s Racist Rabbis

Wave of Edicts Urge: "Hate the Gentile"

Jews must not rent homes to “gentiles”. That was the religious decree issued this week by at least 50 of Israel’s leading rabbis, many of them employed by the state as municipal religious leaders. Jews should first warn, then “ostracise” fellow Jews who fail to heed the directive, the rabbis declared.

In October, Shmuel Eliyahu, the chief rabbi of Safed, delivered a ruling, signed by 17 other rabbis in the city, telling Jewish residents not to sell or rent property to members of the country’s Palestinian Arab minority, who make up a fifth of the population.

His followers turned words into deeds by attacking Arab students in the city and threatening to burn down the homes of Jewish landlords renting to the students.

Similar edicts have recently been backed by dozens of rabbis in Tel Aviv and nearby Bnei Brak, a suburb of 150,000 mostly ultra-Orthodox Jews. They have threatened to “expose” any Jews who rent to “foreigners” — in this case, a reference to migrant workers and African refugees who are crowded into neglected neighbourhoods in the centre of the country.

After many weeks of silence on these declarations, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was finally forced to issue a condemnation yesterday, describing the rabbis’ call as undemocratic and contradicting the bible, which, he said, called for Jews to “love the stranger”.

Nonetheless, racism in Israel is increasingly enjoying high-level sanction among the most influential sectors of the religious establishment.

The latest ruling was signed by Shlomo Aviner, a spiritual leader of Israel’s national-religious camp; Yosef Elyashiv, a senior ultra-Orthodox rabbi; and Avigdor Neventzal, rabbi of Jerusalem’s Old City.

Its sentiments have also been echoed by Ovadia Yosef, a former chief rabbi of Israel and the spiritual leader of Shas, an important political and religious party in Mr Netanyahu’s government. “Selling to [non-Jews], even for a lot of money, is not allowed. We won’t let them take control of us here,” Mr Yosef said recently.

Two months ago, Mr Yosef explained the logic behind his views and those of like-minded rabbis.

“Goyim [non-Jews] were born only to serve us.” Explaining why God allowed non-Jews long lives, he added: “Imagine that your donkey would die, you’d lose your income. [The donkey] is your servant. … That’s why he [the gentile] gets a long life, to work well for the Jew.”

Mr Yosef’s remarks against “gentiles” were greeted with respectful silence by Israeli officials and most of the media. It was left to the United States government and the New York-based Anti-Defamation League (ADL) to issue rebukes. Abraham Foxman, the ADL’s head, accused the rabbi of advancing “hateful and divisive ideas”.

The rabbis’ use of theology to support racial discrimination is being applied to more than just housing.

This summer, Yosef Elitzur and Yitzhak Shapira, who head an influential seminary in the West Bank settlement of Yitzhar, published The King’s Torah, a 230-page guide to how Jews should treat non-Jews.

The two rabbis concluded that Jews were obligated to kill anyone who posed a danger, immediate or potential, to the Jewish people, and implied that all Palestinians were to be considered a threat. On these grounds, the pair justified killing Palestinian civilians and even their babies.

Last month Mr Shapira also backed the use of Palestinians as human shields, a war crime under the Fourth Geneva Convention, and a practice that Israel’s supreme court has outlawed.

The King’s Torah, far from being condemned by moderate rabbis, has been greeted with a general silence and enthusiastic support from a number of notable religious leaders.

Arik Ascherman, head of Rabbis for Human Rights in Israel, said the growing extremism of the the Orthodox religious establishment in Israel reflected the increasingly right-wing atmosphere in Israel that made the expression of ultra-nationalist views permissible.

In the current climate, he said, moderate rabbis were reluctant to speak out against their colleagues. Many of these rabbis belong to the Conservative or Reform streams of Judaism, which are not officially recognised in Israel.

“The religious sanction being given to the political right by these rabbis is dangerous. It makes their opinions seem more acceptable,” he said.

That is being reflected in public surveys, in which many Israeli Jews express support for anti-Arab views. A poll by the Israeli Democracy Institute published last week showed that 46 per cent of the country’s Jews did not want to live near Arab citizens, and 39 per cent felt the same about foreign workers.

Even more, 53 per cent, wanted Arab citizens to be encouraged to leave Israel and half believed Arabs should not have equal rights with Jews. Among the religious public, racist sentiments were more popular.

Israeli prosecutors, meanwhile, have turned a blind eye to the refusal of several prominent endorsers of The King’s Torah to obey a summons calling them for investigation. “Our holy Torah is not a subject for investigation or trial by flesh and blood,” the rabbis said.

In all, the rabbinical establishment is growing increasingly bold in promoting its vision of a Jewish state run according to holy law, according to Zvi Barel, a commentator with the daily newspaper Haaretz.

“They and their supporters are transforming zealous fundamentalism and the shameful The King’s Torah into the mainstream,” Mr Barel wrote recently.

The general trend towards extremism has not happened by chance, said Sefi Rachelevsky, a prominent Israeli writer critical of the Orthodox rabbinate. Israel’s public coffers pay the salaries of some of the most extremist rabbis, and the education system regularly falls under the political control of religious parties like Shas.

Mr Shapira, who advocates killing non-Jewish babies, receives large sums from the education ministry for his yeshiva — a seminary where he spreads his message of hate. Religious students also receive extra subsidies unavailable to normal students to encourage their attendance at such yeshivas.

The rabbis exert their influence on the youngest and most impressionable too. When the new school year started in September, 52 per cent of Jewish children in first grade attended a strictly religious school.

Pupils in some of the most religious schools, Mr Rachlevsky pointed out, are taught that Jews sit above nature, which comprises four categories: “inanimate”, “vegetable”, “animal” and “speakers” — or non-Jews, who are considered no more than talking animals.

Jonathan Cook, based in Nazareth, Israel is a winner of the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East (Pluto Press) and Disappearing Palestine: Israel's Experiments in Human Despair (Zed Books). Read other articles by Jonathan, or visit Jonathan's website.

9 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. bozh said on December 9th, 2010 at 10:29am #

    palestinians are not strangers—‘jews’ are! and torah teaches hatred for and intolerance of strangers. netanyahu speaking from two or more corners of ‘jewish’ mouths! tnx

  2. hayate said on December 9th, 2010 at 12:15pm #

    From the article:

    “Jews must not rent homes to “gentiles”. That was the religious decree issued this week by at least 50 of Israel’s leading rabbis, many of them employed by the state as municipal religious leaders. Jews should first warn, then “ostracise” fellow Jews who fail to heed the directive, the rabbis declared.”

    That would bankrupt a good number of slum lords, especially in new york.


  3. hayate said on December 9th, 2010 at 12:22pm #

    BTW, the israeli guv is panicking over this, a headline from ap:

    Israel checking if rabbis broke law with edict

    “JERUSALEM – Israel’s attorney general’s office says it is looking into whether a rabbis’ edict forbidding property sales to Arabs breaks the law.

    The ruling, signed by dozens of state-paid municipal rabbis, calls for Jews not to rent or sell property to gentiles. It cites the Old Testament, warning that mixing with gentiles can lead to sinful behavior.”

    I love it when the Jewish run, zionist corporate media cant conceal the real israel from the “evil gentiles” over something like this and the zioworks goes into panic mode.

  4. mary said on December 9th, 2010 at 12:59pm #

    Hayate Had you heard that one of Assange’s accusers, Anna Ardin, has decamped to Israel? It all becomes weirder and weirder.

  5. bozh said on December 9th, 2010 at 1:30pm #

    ‘zionists’ wanted these cultists in other people’s land. and ‘zionists’ wld not send them back to where they came from. i think ‘zionists’ deserve them! tnx

  6. Deadbeat said on December 9th, 2010 at 2:08pm #

    Hmm and this is what Chomsky has made excuses for and admits to supporting for decades all the while being elevated and anointed as the “Left’s” intellectual leader. What a joke.

  7. Ismail Zayid said on December 9th, 2010 at 5:52pm #

    The statement by the rabbis is consistent with the blatant racism practiced by the state of Israel against its Muslim and Chritian citizens. Mr. Netanyahu’s belated statement is welcome, but he takes no note of the policies of his government’s racist policies and the recent demands of non-Jews to swear the Oath of Loyalty to Israel as a Jewish state for the Jewish people.

    It is time that the international community and its political leaders and media begin to see the real sate of Israel, that claims to be a true democracy.

  8. jayn0t said on December 9th, 2010 at 7:40pm #

    I’m becoming increasingly dubious of the value of the word ‘racist’. What’s the point of telling Jewish, or any other kind, of ethocentrists, that they are guilty of ‘racism’? What are we trying to do – morally blackmail them into changing? “You ought to stand for the whole of humanity, but you only support your own ethnic group!” It sounds so impotent. A more effective approach might be to point out what would happen if other ethnic groups defended their interests as doggedly as Jewish ethnocentrists do theirs. Just a thought.

  9. hayate said on December 9th, 2010 at 8:21pm #


    “Hayate Had you heard that one of Assange’s accusers, Anna Ardin, has decamped to Israel? It all becomes weirder and weirder.”

    No, I had not heard about that. Talk about a twisted and convoluted plot. 😀

    Sounds like she was “reassigned”. The West Bank locale hints to me she is working mostly for israel, even though she works with Christian groups and her training was with ex-Cuban fascists. But who knows at this point.